Noilly Prattle: To critique or not to critique...

Friday, January 13, 2012

To critique or not to critique...

I love to go to the opera, but have found myself frustrated by the poor quality of performances at brand name houses, especially the Staatsoper in Vienna. I've been wondering if I should venture into music criticism on this blog. I hesitate since I am neither a musician nor trained in music and I'm told that I can't even carry a tune. But my secret vice (well, one of them anyway) is that I like to sing along with CDs when alone in my car where no one will freak out or roll their eyes.

But, as far as critiquing music [opera and concerts] is concerned, I have attended shows and/or heard enough recorded performances to be able to compare. Furthermore, I know what I like. And I do NOT like the current trend of using so-called “stars” to bring in the money to the opera house—especially such brand name houses as the Vienna Staatsoper, the Met in New York and Milan's la Scala—who are neither very good singers nor actors. They are basically “famous” because they're famous. In other words they have good handlers and press agents and are well hyped, but are not true artists. They are more like “IDORU”, idols who are mostly famous (to their fans) for their sex appeal and good looks as opposed to musical artistry. Real artists with great voices can be overlooked because they do not have the currently fashionable “right” look, i.e., drop-dead gorgeous in a movie-star way. For the brand name houses nowadays the star singer, as in Hollywood, is “the money”. He or she sells tickets for houses increasingly starved of state support for the arts in hard economic times. Then, all too often, the star will not even show up for the performance you may have bought tickets for and you are left with an expensive ticket for an understudy, and no reduction in ticket price or refunds. This is accepted as “normal” in such tourist traps as the Vienna Staatsoper (shocking as that may sound to those mesmerized by the Vienna brand image).

Fortunately, there are alternatives to the “world class” brand name houses all over Europe in lesser known cities and towns where the true atmosphere of the theater still exists and talented artists give superior performances because they simply love their work and do not have the over inflated egos of pampered stars. Prague has three functioning repertory houses with reasonable ticket prices and generally good and sometimes outstanding performances. The Theater of the Estates (where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni), shown on the left is particularly charming.  Bratislava has two houses which also produce good shows at reasonable prices. Budapest has one house famous for its architecture and decor. Tickets are reasonably priced and the city is beautiful as well.

I am currently spending the winter opera season in Prague and hope to try giving my non-technical impression of some of the shows I will attend in and around Prague through the end of March. Just whether I liked the show or not any maybe some whys and wherefores.

More later.

Photo on the right was taken last year at The Theater of the Estates in Prague for Idomeneo.

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